Session 04—Wed, Jan 25: East Asian Frameworks: Buddhism and love • East Asian frameworks summary comments: layering, timelines, the non-sacred, primacy of society, women, deception
Topics for this session
❖ "Love" within a Buddhist perspective
❖ Summary comments: layering, timelines, the non-sacred, primacy of society, women, deception
General comment: By the end of this class some students might be feeling that we are covering a lot of material in a rushed way, too quickly to feel comfortable with a mastery of the material. First, I am making abstract claims. As we get involved in premodern texts and, later, films, these comments will make more sense. Second, some of these comments may well be the first time you have thought about thing in that particular way. I am trying to break new ground with these ideas so some may not have been encountered in quite this way before so they seem unfamiliar and don't plug in well with material you already know. Over the course of the term you get the chance to try these ideas out and develope your own relationship to them. Third, as stated elsewhere this is not an introductory class and so, yes, there is some assumed knowledge of Confucianism, Chinese cosmology, Buddhism and so forth. If these thought systems are new to you, or fuzzy, you should spend about an hour or so on each getting familair with some of the basics. That will help ground you.
I argue that the type of love affirmed within classic Buddhism ideology of China (and Korea / Japan) is benevolence. Romantic love per se is not embraced as an extension of God's divine love as we see within the Christian tradition. Generally speaking "being in love" is viewed as one of the many ignorant states of humans lost in an illusory world that is characterized by suffering as a result of, or response to, change (dukkha). Desire itself lacks the positive valence given by Greek philosophy where the desire for the beautiful leads eventually to the desire for truth. In this system, desire has karmic results that perpetuate states of suffering. Thus romantic love happens either outside the boundaries (non-cognizant) of Buddhist truths or in recognition that romantic love must be closely tied to suffering, and will be transient in nature. This makes it difficult to find exuberant romantic love within the shadow cast by Buddhist influences, unless it is either transgressive (which is not usually an exuberant state for premodern individuals who ultimately accept the normative value of their society) or grounded in, for example, a celebration of sexuality or such arising not out of Buddhist practices but rather other indigenous beliefs. I might mention the important exception of tantric Buddhism but suggest that this has not provided the dominant ways of thinking about love in premodern, Buddhist, general, cultural environments.
I set out these things as some of the basics that Chinese cosmology, Confucianism and Buddhism have contributed to a framework for building romantic narratives / understnding romantic relationships:
Chinese cosmology sets some ground rules (preexists fully formed Buddhism and Confucianism):
- Layering—rather than unique specific romantic situations it contributes to creating ambiguous ambiguous relationships (do I love you or your sister who was my first wife?) and ambiguous moral situations (either because there is no explicit religous teaching on the moment or multiple systems compete for your ethical attention) AND layered time (huge role of memories)
- Balance—Heaven’s will does not bend to human will
- Balance: golden mean, poise, controlled emotions considered a "wiser" or "better" or more mature mental state than passion (which is vital to Christianity in measuring the depth of love and devlotion)
- The importance of the occult / hidden (including deception's many rolesin romance)
- Emphasis on change
- Actual inferior status of women
Confucianism and Buddhism
- thoroughly mixed but bring different things to the table
- romantic love has a low status in both systems
- Christianity pairs the divine and "true" love, this never happened in these other systems where love is not a sacred event
- dominance of society
- embracing of (not just accepting) hierarchy
- positive assertion that there is such a thing as achievable happiness, there is a successful end state to be achieved
- nonlinearity of narratives (timelines) where one seems to be confronted with persistent problems that lack solution rather than a goal with a promise of happiness at the end
- teachings of impermanence (dukkha) leads to romantic caution, narratives of the unreliability of romance, despair, lack of exuberance, emphasis on tears, etc.
Required—to be completed for today's session
✓ Extra credit: Write a good story or scene that you can read slowly and clearly aloud, to the class, in less than 60 seconds that at least 80% of the class can easily identify as grounded in Buddhist tenets that are relevant to love or Confucian tenets that are grounded in love. Hint: find out what 才子佳人 cáizǐ jiārén is.
Texts, multimedia notes, links*
nothing yet ...
nothing yet ...
*THOUGHTS: Reading before class probably helps follow session content, reading afterwards might help consolidate notes, revisiting for tests is recommended. Content might be added before class or anytime up until about 24 hours ahead of a midterm.
*TEXTS, MULTIMEDIA NOTES, LINKS: If I have read from something, shown something or presented audio that is not elsewhere mentioned, I usually include that information here for the curious, sometime after the class (since I often make last-minute decisions about including something). It might take a while and sometimes I forget. You can email me.
*OTHER: When possible I note here names, places, and other details that I have mentioned in a lecture that would otherwise not be accessible in the assigned materials or easily located on your own. As with "TEXTS ..." this is usually sometime after class and, again, I might not be able to get around to doing it.